Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Human Rights Council – 17th Session

Update by the High Commissioner

Statement by Australia

30 May 2011

On behalf of the Government of Australia, I would like to make some brief comments about the High Commissioner’s visit to Australia last week.

Australia invited the High Commissioner and welcomed her visit, consistent with the Government’s standing and open invitation to the special procedures mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner was in Australia for six days. During this time, she travelled around the country and met with the Australian Human Rights Commission and a large number of non-government organisations. She also had access to the highest levels of the Federal Government.

The Australian Government takes its international human rights obligations seriously and is a state party to all the major human rights instruments as well as the UN Refugees Convention. While in Australia, the High Commissioner rightly referred to our longstanding and proud human rights record – both at home and abroad.

The High Commissioner’s statement today referred to Australia’s immigration and asylum seeker policies. Australia is one of the top three refugee resettlement destinations in the world. Australian laws do not discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or ethnic identity. Australia’s multicultural policy, The People of Australia, unequivocally re-states the Government’s opposition to all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance and prejudice.

In Australia, mandatory detention is based on a person's unauthorised arrival, not on seeking asylum. Of the current caseload of approximately 15,300 asylum seekers whose status is yet to be determined, more than 70 percent remain in the community. The length and conditions of detention are subject to constant and regular review. The UN Human Rights Committee's Final Views in A v Australia (Communication No 560/1993) states - and I quote - "there [is] no basis for the claim that it is per se arbitrary to detain individuals requesting asylum ... nor [is] there a rule of customary international law which would render all such detention arbitrary".

Australia has taken unprecedented steps to tackle disadvantage among Indigenous Australians and acknowledge past wrongs. The Government made a national apology to the Stolen Generations of Indigenous Australians in 2008, signalled its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2009, and established a new national representative body for Indigenous Australians in 2010. Through its comprehensive “Closing the Gap” platform, the Government is committed to addressing the disparity in life opportunities and outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

On the subject of Constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, on 23 December 2010 the Government appointed an Expert Panel to promote public discussion about the proposed changes. The Panel was chosen after extensive public and parliamentary consultation. The Panel is tasked with developing options to give effect to Indigenous constitutional recognition and advising on the level of support for each option. It will report to Government by December 2011.